Granada High School basketball player Tyler Pagett delivered a game for the ages Feb. 1.
Pagett, a 6-foot-7 junior center, scored 38 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in an unlikely 75-71 road victory over California. His 3-pointer at the buzzer forced overtime, then he added six points to complete the Matadors' upset. Former Granada coaches say Pagett's 38 points could be a school record.
It was a game to remember, but not just because of Pagett's stat line.
"Some people I talked to didn't really believe that he was blind," Christina Harrison said after her son's performance.
Only weeks earlier, Pagett had been rendered blind in his right eye by an in-game accident. Pagett and his Matadors teammates were playing Kennedy High in Fremont on Dec. 15 when Pagett jumped in pursuit of a rebound. In a sea of hands, an opposing player's finger lodged in his right eye.
Pagett went to the floor and was eventually helped to the bench, where Harrison checked on him.
"He had his eye covered with a towel and I asked him to take it off," Harrison said. "Immediately, my stomach dropped."
The eye was red and swollen nearly shut. There was bleeding from a torn tear duct, which required stitches. Harrison took Pagett to the emergency room at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fremont, where he began to realize he couldn't see out of the eye.
Harrison said a specialist came in to stitch up the tear ducts, but not even doctors realized how serious the injury was because there was so much blood in the eye. Trips to three specialists in the coming weeks all delivered the same conclusion: Pagett was permanently blind in his right eye.
The blindness is believed to be caused by a torn optic nerve. Doctors told Harrison they believe the finger must have pushed in and rotated the eyeball, causing the tear to the nerve, which transmits visual information from the retina to the brain.
"The doctor said it was a freak accident," Pagett said. "They said the only thing that could possibly happen is one day I just wake up and I can see, but they said it's unlikely."
Dr. Mike Lahey, an ophthalmologist at Kaiser who works as a retinal surgeon and has examined Pagett, said his injury is one more commonly caused by a high-impact car crash, and that it would create some severe challenges for Pagett on the court.
"You can adjust to it over time, which he's doing right now," Lahey said. "But he's never going to have the kind of depth perception that he had before. He doesn't have that side peripheral vision that would be advantageous. But it sounds like he's still able to put the ball in the hoop."
Pagett dealt with severe headaches in the weeks after the injury, which occurred two days before the start of the school's winter break. He sat out the remaining two games of Granada's preseason, although he continued to attend and watch practices from the sidelines.
He felt good enough to play when the Matadors opened their East Bay Athletic League season against Amador Valley on Jan. 4, just 20 days after the injury. He scored 12 points in a loss to the Dons.
"It was really hard," Pagett said. "I came back and it took me two or three games to fully come back from it."
Pagett noticed the biggest effect the vision loss had on his game was on defense.
"The hardest part is we play zone, and you have to pay attention to more than one thing, and I can't see everything on the court," he said. "Playing offense, they take advantage because they come on the right side and I can't see them. I just try to adjust my shot so they can't get it."
Pagett is partially assisted by his role as a post player, which means most of his scoring occurs close to the basket.
He started to get back in a groove Jan. 28 during the Matadors' rematch with Amador Valley. He scored a game-high 25 points in a 65-57 victory, setting the stage for his next outing against California on Feb. 1.
Harrison could hardly contain herself while watching that game.
"I don't think I've ever been more excited in my life," Harrison said.
"I kept telling him 'You can be just as good, if not better than before you got injured. You have to want it and know you can do it,' " she said. "I think that game he proved to himself and to others that he can do it."
Granada coach Mike Wood said he hardly notices a difference between the player Pagett is now and the player he was before the injury. "He really doesn't play any differently," Wood said. "He can still shoot the ball. He can score from anywhere within 15 feet."
Pagett and the Matadors wrap up their season at 7 p.m. Thursday with a home game against rival Livermore.
Pagett's goal is to play college basketball. Wood, who is the all-time scoring leader at Cal State East Bay, said he has the skills.
"If he continues to work as hard as he does, he definitely should be a college basketball player," Wood said. "He's a great kid. He works his butt off. He's always smiling and is a pleasure to coach."
For now, Pagett is happy to be back on the court and has found a way to view his setback in a positive light.
"I believe everything happens for a reason," Pagett said. "As soon as I got my eye injured, I've worked harder and became better at what I've done. I think it's made me become a better basketball player than I was before."